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First Edition, Sky News, 6 October 2023

Peter Stefanovic: The main representative body for Aboriginal people in Central Australia has requested Commonwealth assistance to fix the Northern Territory’s schools funding crisis. The Central Land Council will ask the federal government to help bridge the gap over teacher shortages and concerns about a misplaced focus on bureaucracy. Joining us live now is the Shadow Education Minister, Sarah Henderson. Sarah, I appreciate your time this morning. So we’ve been running this story today and I see it on the front page of The Australian there too, the remote education funding crisis in the Northern Territory, so if we just elaborate on that for a moment and just share your thoughts on what you think about that?

Senator Henderson: Well, Peter, good morning and great to join you. There is no doubt there is a remote education funding crisis and we have called on the Albanese Government to take urgent action. But so far the Education Minister, Jason Clare, has been missing in action. There are a number of problems. There is a shortfall in the Schooling Resource Standard, so the Northern Territory government is well behind what it should be contributing to government schools. And there’s also a problem with the way that schools receive their money. It’s based on actual attendance rather than enrolment, and that’s causing a lot of disadvantage. And then of course, we’ve seen in this year’s budget, the Albanese Government – would you believe, talking about the Voice, Peter, talking about making a difference for kids going to school – it actually goes ahead and cuts the funding for two Indigenous boarding schools in East Arnhem Land and also the Pilbara. And we’ve been prosecuting the case for another Indigenous school in Alice Springs, Yipirinya, which desperately needs a boarding school so kids can go to school and learn and be safe, and not travel three hours a day. And on that issue, we’ve seen no action from the government as well. So all in all, it’s a dismal situation and urgent action is required.

Peter Stefanovic: Okay, So how much of this falls on the laps of the feds, though, and how much of this should be dealt with by the Northern Territory government?

Senator Henderson: Well, it is a combination. So in relation to the cuts we’ve seen in the federal budget, they are fairly and squarely the responsibility of the Albanese Government and the Education Minister, Jason Clare. You know, there’s some $1.4 billion going to the National Indigenous Agency and they are saying, look, we’re responsible perhaps for supporting schools like Yipirinya, and yet they’ve been led a merry dance for months. The elders have been pleading for action, and then to make matters worse, Peter, there was also the announcement of $40 million under the Alice Springs Community Safety package. Now that was to go to schools to help get kids off the streets and back to school to lift school attendance. But that money has now been distributed in an unfair way, and so schools most in need, like Yipirinya, which was planning to use that money to set up a satellite school on country in a remote area, have now lost that opportunity. So it is a real mess. We need urgent answers and we don’t need a Voice referendum to see the government take urgent action.

Peter Stefanovic: Well, on that point, though, is this not the sort of thing, though, that the Voice to Parliament would fix?

Senator Henderson: Well, the problem is – as Jacinta Nampijinpa Price has said so eloquently – what we need in Canberra is ears, not a voice. We’ve been crying out for funding for Indigenous schools, in fact, before the election, and the Albanese Government has even refused to match the funding that we committed to Yipirinya School. And now in the very year the Albanese Government is delivering this so-called idea of a voice which has divided the nation, as we now know, it’s cutting funding in its budget for Indigenous boarding schools. Now boarding schools in remote parts of the country, particularly the Northern Territory, are a really important part of the solution. They really lift attendance, they provide a very stable and safe way for kids to learn. And so it is just incredible that these sorts of cuts would be occurring, particularly in a year when the government has been trying to prosecute the Voice. So just let me make this point. The Prime Minister goes to the Garma Festival, Peter, he talks about what the Voice will do for Indigenous kids, how it will make a difference, how they get better schools, and just up the road in East Arnhem Land, the government is cutting funding to build an Indigenous boarding school. It’s gross hypocrisy and what we need is a government which listens.

Peter Stefanovic: Okay Sarah, this is outside your wheelhouse here, but there’s just this breaking story out of the United States and just because you’re the first politician I’ve spoken to since this story has emerged, just from your point of view, from the opposition’s point of view, there’s some discussions that have allegedly been made between Donald Trump and Anthony Pratt. Sensitive data, a sensitive conversation was had about nuclear submarines. Are you concerned about what that might be? We’re still trying to work out exactly what it was and how sensitive that information was. But would you have any concerns about that being shared privately?

Senator Henderson: Well, Peter, as you say, this is breaking news out of the United States, I don’t have any details. It’s still being verified and I really won’t seek to make any comment.

Peter Stefanovic: No problem at all. Sarah Henderson, appreciate your time this morning. Thank you, we’ll talk to you again soon.

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